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House of Night

The Mojave Tribe’s creation cycle consists of 525 songs that take more than 13 hours to sing. Traditionally, they were not written down, but passed from generation to generation orally. By the late 1960s, elderly Emmet Van Fleet was the last of the tribe’s creation song singers. There was no one for him to teach.

A chance meeting with an amateur ethnologist helped Van Fleet save his heritage. Guy Tyler, a CBS radio engineer out of Los Angeles, began visiting him regularly on the reservation in Needles, Calif. The two men recorded the creation song cycle on reel to reel tapes.

When Van Fleet died, he left the tapes for his young nephew Llewellyn Barrackman. But Barrackman never became a singer. Instead the tapes sat in storage for more than 20 years. By the time environmental activist, writer and cultural preservationist Philip Klasky heard about them, the tribe no longer had equipment that could play the tapes.

As part of Lost and Found Sound, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva traveled with Klasky to the Mojave reservation. There they listened to the tapes. They asked Barrackman and other tribe members about the creation songs and other aspects of Mojave culture. They also documented a more modern struggle. The Mojave are trying to prevent part of their ancestral lands from becoming a nuclear waste dump.

Special thanks to Philip M. Klasky; Randy Thom; Llewellyn and Betty Barrackman; Jim McKee; David Yewdall; Ethan Derner; the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe; Brett Jacobson; Beverly and Otho McNabb; Pastor Albert Fredrico of the Seventh Day Adventist Church; Laura Folger; Sandra Wong; and John Foreman. Archiving & Preservation of Lost and Found Sound series made possible by The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. Further support was provided by the Center for the American South.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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